Borders are closed, people are sitting at home, but I bet most of you dream about travelling again. I want to invite you all to my country of origin - Armenia. It has something to offer to every group of people - tourists, entrepreneurs and investors!
Disclaimer 1. Most small nations love to exaggerate their small accomplishments. We are not an exception. Sadly, native Armenians are the 3rd most chauvinistic people in Europe after Greeks and Georgians! We still have a lot of problems, and that’s a topic for a separate article. However, I was born in Russia, I speak Russian and English better than Armenian, and I have lived all around the globe, so this is closer to an outsider look than you might think.
Disclaimer 2. I try to follow my advice, but I still don’t have a legal entity in Armenia and can’t physically travel there due to COVID-19. I encourage you to be sceptical and fact-check. I am open to any questions and meaningful comments.
What is Armenia?!
If you haven’t heard about my country, it’s ok. Here is a fact sheet to get you started.
- Armenia is located south of Caucasus mountains.
- It has a unique ancient language that belongs to the Indo-European family.
- Our capital Yerevan is older than Rome. It’s over 2800 years old.
- Armenia was previously called:
- Armenia was the first country in history to adopt Christianity in the 4th century.
- Armenia has preserved a huge part of its history, including the Garni temple from pre-christian times.
- We are tiny.
- Armenia has ~3 mln population.
- Our neighbours - Turkey and Iran both have 82 mln residents.
- We are a nation of Nomads.
- In Soviet times, we were one of the main hubs of Chemical & Electrical engineering for the entire union of 250+ mln people.
- We have a surprising number of professional chess players and scientists. Especially, for a 3rd world country.
- We are geopolitically similar to Israel and Singapore, but unfortunately – land-locked.
- Armenia today ranks 8th globally for ease of starting a business.
- Estonia is 15th.
- The UK is 19th.
- Israel is 45th.
- The USA is 53rd.
Doing IT Business in Armenia
My last 3 trips to Armenia were in 2012, 2017 and 2019. In 2017 I was preparing to register my own company Unum in Armenia. I have met a few people, talked to locals and left the country after 4 days! That’s how disappointed I was. If an Armenian guy doesn’t want to do business in Armenia, why would a foreigner do?
Just 1 year laterm everything changed. I am talking about the Velvet Revolution of 2018, of course. In some way it is the first truly peaceful transition of power in the CIS since the fall of USSR. Most shockingly, even Armenians who lived abroad - had travelled home just to support the protests on the streets of Yerevan! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
In 2019 I travelled to Armenia again. This time - for a full month. I was born in a megapolis with 5 mln population, been to SF, NY, CDMX, BsAs, BK, HK and probably every single famous city you can think of. What could I possibly do in Yerevan for so long?
- World Congress on Information Technology 2019.
- Global Innovation Forum 2019 by FAST Foundation.
- HIVE 2019 event by Hive Foundation.
- Aurora Prize charity Event.
In a month Yerevan hosted more interesting international events, than Moscow, which is 15x times bigger! I have met scientists and engineers from around the globe, and we were rediscovering Armenia together! We are just opening up after thousands of years of cultural isolation, so a lot must be polished, but the start is auspicious!
Why Tech Specifically?
- We have a mountainous terrain which makes agriculture difficult.
- Our natural resources are scarce, so mineral exports can’t support the economy.
- We are land-locked and have troubled relations with neighbours, so trading is limited.
By process of elimination, the only things we export are Clean Energy and Information Technologies. Hi-tech professions are very prestigious, and schools emphasize Maths, Physics and Chess as the main subjects.
Which Kinds of Tech?
I would be lying if I told you that best software developers are Armenians. I think the most undervalued pool of software developers is in Russia. It is massive, yet more skilled than in Belarus and Ukraine (or India, Pakistan and China for that matter). Today, the average salary in China is higher than in Russia! Here is my honest personal view of expertise levels in different sectors of Armenian IT:
Some facts to back it up:
- Synopsys does R&D in Armenia. They design hardware IP for Intel and other big clients. They were one of the first companies to open a campus in Yerevan back in 2004, so big thanks to them! $SNPS market cap is ~ $31 bln.
- Xilinx also does R&D in Armenia. They sell FPGA cards globally. $XLNX market cap is ~ $26 bln.
- Digital Pomengranate runs the biggest Flutter Development Hub in Gyumri, Armenia. They build cross-platform mobile apps for businesses all around the globe.
Oracle, Cisco, Team Viewer and a few other international brands also have offices in Armenia. Western companies are very cautious and avoid outsourcing research to countries with strong ties to Russia or China. We have both, but yet the benefits outweigh the risks. To sum it up - Armenia is excellent for Hardware Design. Senior backend developers are rare, but we will work on it!
Investing in Armenia
After the revolution - we have become one of the most democratic countries in the region. Our neighbours, on the other hand, have more restrictive regimes, that may not be so appealing to Western Businesses. If you need a physical presence in the Middle East, Armenia is a good entry point. Here are some nearby countries.
|Country||Population||Potential Complication for Western Companies|
|Iran 🇮🇷||82 mln||Sharia law|
|Turkey 🇹🇷||82 mln||Transitioning to Sharia law|
|Iraq 🇮🇶||38 mln||Sharia law|
|Syria 🇸🇾||17 mln||Didn’t recover after the war|
We have a modern international airport and a growing number of flight directions. Land-borders with Iran and Georgia are also open.
Similarities with Israel
Armenian and Jewish cultures share troubled past - cultural isolation, genocides and long recovery. Our society & the tech sector is undergoing the same transition Israel had a 2-5 decades ago. If you could travel back in time and invest in Israel, would you? I would!
Well-educated & skilled Armenians from all over the globe are proudly repatriating to their historical homeland to start a business, teach & research new technologies.
- ServiceTitan (unicorn) originated in Los Angeles. They do R&D in Yerevan.
- PicsArt (almost unicorn) originated in Moscow. They do R&D in Yerevan.
- IntelinAir originated in Urbana-Champaign. They do R&D in Yerevan.
Armenian tech marked 27%+ consistent annual growth for last two decades. Local IT outsourcing companies become more independant and start developing their own products. I bet the next Armenian unicorn is right around the corner!
Similarities with Georgia
If you think the Israeli example is dated, here is a more recent one. Georgia had a not-so-peaceful transition of power about a decade ago. Since then, they have liberated their economy in many ways, and we are doing the same!
- New taxation policies are much easier to follow.
- The corruption levels have dropped significantly.
- Startups receive generous tax incentives:
- 0% income tax,
- 10% flat payroll tax.
Georgia has a territorial taxation system that we don’t have. Their capital looks sweeter than hours. Their food and music are equally good, if not better. That said, I believe Armenia has much stronger tech scene, and that gap will widen in the next years!
Travelling to Armenia
What to do?
- Dining & wining - the classical benefits of a third-world country!
- Visit historical sights.
- Art & Culture. I am not a big expert on this one, but here is what I enjoy:
- Active sports. Here is an entire article about it.
- Climbing the Aragats mountain (4090 meters).
- Windsurfing and Jet-Skiing on Lake Sevan.
- Paragliding and Hot Air Ballooning.
- Skiing or snowboarding at Tsaghkadzor.
- Study. Armenia hosts some of the most advanced international elementary and middle schools:
Unfortunatelly, the same can’t be said about our universities today, but I predict the situation will change in 10 years!
- We have a bilateral visa-free travel agreement with China.
- Russians don’t even need International documents to come. A local Russian ID is enough!
Here is the full list of eligible countries. Hopefully, visa-free and e-visa agreements with the EU and the USA will come soon.
- People in Armenia are very open and friendly - its safety level is on par with Switzerland! Girls can walk in mini-skirts at night alone without being afraid of creeps.
- Most people speak either Russian or English (often both), so you can always approach them for help!
- USA and Russia have gigantic embassies in Yerevan, as some other countries. If you need help from your government officials - it’s always available!